Ollantaytambo, the gateway to Machu Picchu
Of all the towns in Peru’s famous Sacred Valley of the Incas, Ollantaytambo is probably the best known, and rightly so.
This charming little town is connected to the only train network around, and boasts a charming town center and a very important archaeological sanctuary.
This coming 2021 might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience Ollantaytambo and the Sacred Valley without the crowds. Below are a few more reasons to visit.
Connected to Cusco, Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley
The fastest and most comfortable way to travel in this region is by train, and Ollantaytambo happens to be a main stop for both Perurail and Incarail train services (the only ones that operate).
From Ollantaytambo there are direct train services to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu’s town) and to Cusco, making it a great base from which to visit the Sacred Valley without straying away from the main sites in the region.
Urumbamba, Calca and Pisac in the Sacred Valley, as well as the ‘Maras’ salt mine and the ‘Moray’ Inca laboratory are all within one hour of Ollantaytambo.
Altitude sickness is something many European and American tourists forget about when visiting Cusco. It affects some people worst than others, regardless of fitness, so having an acclimatization plan is very important.
Standing at an altitude of 2 800m (9 000ft), Ollantaytambo is at a much lower elevation than Cusco, which stands at 3 400m (11 200ft).
It takes about 2 hours from Cusco Airport to Ollantaytambo by bus or with a tour company, making it a great place to spend your first night in the Andes without having to travel very far.
Ollantaytambo Sanctuary and Pinkuylluna
The archaeological site was conquered by the Incas in the 15th century and was quickly turned into one of the emperor’s principal estates, boasting both temple and fortress-like architecture.
It was also here that the first Inca rebels were stationed at the beginning of an initially successful resistance, making this place of historical imporance.
The site tends to be busy so visiting during early or late hours is best. There are a number of hostels, hotels and lodges in Ollantaytambo so finding a place is not a problem.
A cheaper (free!) and equally impressive alternative, is to visit Pinkuylluna, an Inca warehouse site stacked against a crag overlooking the entire Sacred Valley.
Restaurants, cafes and distilleries
Being smaller than Cusco but equally cosmopolitan, Ollantaytambo also offers a great chance to relax in a small town while having cosmopolitan restaurants, cafes and shops.
Many alternative people have been taking refuge in Ollantaytambo since the hippie movement of the 1960s, and this is very noticeable in the town center.
Also, if you stray a few blocks away from the center, life is still pretty much as traditional as it gets and a good chance for an authentic experience without a chance of getting lost, like in Cusco.
There is also a small distillery which is starting to make a name to itself called ‘Distilería Andina’. They distill their own traditional Andean spirits while experimenting with local herbs. It is definitely worth a visit if you are into liquor.
The gateway to Machu Picchu
Ollantaytambo has also been dubbed as the ‘gateway to Machu Picchu’ as it is the closest town to the start of the world-famous Inca Trail.
This makes it a great place to buy all the necessary snacks and last minute equipment (e.g. woolly hats, walking sticks, etc) prior to embarking on the famous multi-day trek (which must be booked well in advance).
Most others take the train to Aguas Calientes from here and visit Machu Picchu. Aguas Calientes also boasts its array of nice restaurants and hotels, including Casa del Sol Boutique Hotels that offer luxurious accommodation and quality experience packages,